Friday, July 31, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Heavy Things Edition

There has been a lot of death and suffering in the my Twitter feed lately. Perhaps I need a break. Maybe next week, I will look for only lighter things to share, but for this week, I have mostly heavy things. I am sorry, but the world is heavy these days.


Tressie McMillan Cottom's personal story of being arrested as part of a minor traffic stop is,,, I don't know what to say here. Wonderful seems inappropriate given the subject matter. Compelling? Important. Whatever, go read it. Personally, I read just about anything she posts, so I read her second piece at the Atlantic about Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, too. This one is about the stories not told in that book, and it is definitely worth your time.

Sally Kohn's piece about reading the book as a white woman- and why we should read it, even though it will be hard- is also worth your time. I confess to feeling a little bit of optimism upon finding a piece like this in a publication like Elle.


I also read an old post from Patrick Blanchfield about... boy, about a lot. The title is Sandy Hook, "White on White Crime" and How Privilege Kills and that is probably as good a summary as any I can come up with. It was was written after the report from the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate released its report about the Sandy Hook shootings. It covers a lot of ground, and I found it very, very disturbing, not least of all because if I'm honest with myself, I cannot be completely sure I would have responded to the challenge of raising a child like Adam Lanza better than Nancy Lanza did. I cannot be sure I would not have used- no, misused- my privilege just as she did. That is a really disturbing thing to think about.

I give her the benefit of the doubt, and think she believed she was doing what was best for a child she loved and wanted to protect. And she did some really, really wrong things, and was able to avoid the help other, more impartial people thought her child needed because she had the money and social standing to do so. 

I can be sure that I wouldn't have provided access to guns, so I guess there's that.

Anyway, go read that post, but be prepared for it to hurt a little.


OK, here's some actual good news: Merck and WHO ran a trial of an Ebola vaccine in West Africa, and the results were very, very encouraging. I hope that further studies bear this finding out.

And this isn't good news or bad news, it is just interesting: a dot map of every job in the US, color-coded by industry segment.

In "I like to make money" news, I gave the Run Better Meetings seminar, and it went well. I've decided to make the recording available for purchase via GumRoad. Details here.

I also finalized the formatting for Unspotted and uploaded the final files. Let the countdown to release day (August 12!) begin. You, of course, can get a jumpstart on that by pre-ordering.

Let's end on a genuinely fun note: my husband tried his hand at making a crappy thing to stop a child from whining, and was successful. Behold, the crappy pom-poms!

Also, how cool is this drawing?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Wisdom Practice

I love to read, so it is probably not surprising that I keep buying books in search of wisdom.

I am not aging as gracefully as I thought I would. I am too short-tempered and not patient enough. I am overwhelmed by the horribleness in our world sometimes. I get caught up in other people's ideas of success and question my own choices. I get anxious. And so on.

I go looking for books to help me do better, and be the person I want to be. Most recently, I bought The Gifts of Imperfection,by Brene Brown. It was a pretty good book, and I don't regret reading it.

At some point in the book, when it was talking about engaging in a purposeful practice of some sort, I realized that I already have as much wisdom as I need.

I just need to practice it.
One of my kids enjoying life.

When I talk to people about getting better at using their time, I emphasize that there really is no "one cool trick" that will make it easy. It is about looking honestly at what you're doing now, thinking about how you could do better, doing the work to make it happen, and then keeping with it until the new way becomes your habit.  It isn't a quick fix, and it isn't necessarily easy, but it is effective.

And that's what I need to do with the aspects of my life that send me looking for wisdom.

I enjoy reading books about building a better, happier life, so I will probably keep reading them every now and then. But I don't need to read any more books. I've already read enough to know what I need to do to feel better. I need to get my yoga practice established again. I need to get my exercise routines going again. I need to remind myself of both my incredible good fortune and my resilience. I need to pick one thing and make it better. I need to count to four when I'm angry. (OK, that last one came from Daniel Tiger, but hey, take your wisdom where you find it.)

In short, I need to practice the wisdom I already have.

I'm not going to find "one cool trick" that makes this easy. It doesn't work like that. I know that, just as I know- from experience- how much better I feel when I have a strong "wisdom practice." I've been there before, and I can get there again. It is time to stop making excuses for why I'm not doing the things I know make my life better and start working on my wisdom practice. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: My First Plane Trip

My kids both flew before they were old enough to really understand that this was anything more momentous that the other random outings we took them on, and we've flown enough with them over the years to have (luckily) avoided any travel worries from them.

So, we're not really the target audience for My First Plane Trip, a short picture book by Kim Jenkins. Still, I like to try to help authors out when I can, so I agreed to take a review copy. And then proceeded to get really busy, so it has been over a month and I'm only now posting the review.

I read the book and Pumpkin (who is eight) read the book. I think Petunia (who will be six in a few months) might be more in the target age range for the book, but she was basically a walking meltdown tonight due to an unfortunate incident at camp with some sunscreen and her eye, so I didn't think it was worth asking her opinion. All of her opinions tonight degenerated rather quickly into tears.

The book is a straight-forward explanation of the things a child is likely to see and experience when taking a trip on an airplane. There is also a list of "People You Might Meet" and a glossary, which I think may have been Pumpkin's favorite parts.

Both Pumpkin and I rated this book as "fine." We both thought it did a solid job of explaining the air travel process to a child who wasn't familiar with it. The book is illustrated with photos, which might be a nice feature in terms of helping kids recognize what they're seeing on the day of the trip. Some of the pictures are clearly stock photos, but there was only one case where that bothered me: the photo illustrating baggage loading shows bundled freight being loaded. 

There is some humor provided by funny cat photos and the incongruous appearance of a porcupine. This humor worked better for me than it did for Pumpkin- she took it  too literally and said "no one would travel with a porcupine!" (I decided not to explain to her that was sort of the point of the use of the porcupine.) I think this is a case where a younger child who is in a less literal humor stage would enjoy the humor more than Pumpkin did. Pumpkin is solidly in the scatological humor phase, so probably would only have laughed if the porcupine had farted.

I had one other content concern: there was a page about the airport stores, which might be a bad thing if you were hoping to avoid shopping in the stores during your time in the airport. We usually buy an overpriced snack in one of the airport stores to take the edge of waiting, but I know some parents try to avoid them.

I had a PDF version, so I can't comment on the ebook layout, but the text was well-edited, age appropriate, and easy to read. 

All in all, I think the ebook version of this book would be a good investment if you have a child under the age of six or so who is about to take their first airplane ride. I'm not sure I think the cost of the print version would be justified for most kids, but if I had a child who was fearful of the new experience, I'd give it a try.

-----------------------

I occasionally accept a review copy of a book to review. My review policy is explained on my page about book reviews. A PDF version of the book in this post was sent to me by the author.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Aw Heck I Don't Have a Theme Edition

Thank you all for your kind comments on my last post. Pumpkin still hasn't settled on a mantra, but she's also stopped asking me to stay in her room while she falls asleep, so perhaps this particular bout of bedtime worrying is passing.

As for me... I'm feeling better, too. I made an effort to go to bed on time for a the last couple of nights, and I also finished a couple of big projects (the slides for the Run Better Meetings seminar and the final revisions and formatting for Unspotted), so I have a nice feeling of accomplishment.

I've been doing some thinking, and I suspect my difficulty right now is coming from the fact that I am uncertain whether my main "anchor" client will renew my contract next year. My other sources of income are growing, but slowly, and if my anchor contract goes away, I will need to either replace it or find a full time job within a few months. I really don't want to have to find a fulltime job, so I'm probably feeling some extra pressure to make the things I'm doing when I'm not working on my anchor contract pay off.

This is rational... but also irrational. A guarantee of 6 months of the current work situation is frankly more than I usually had when I had a fulltime job. Remember, I worked in biotech, and have had the experience of being surprised by layoffs more than once.

So I'm reminding myself of that, which is helping. I'm also going to budget some time in next month to try to brainstorm some ways to increase my revenue. As with any start-up, more revenue means more runway before I run out of money.

Enough about me. This is a links post! Here's what I have this week:

The Atlantic is running a "book club" about Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book. Tressie McMillan Cottom starts it off really, really well. This may be the best thing I've read yet about the book. (Which I still haven't read... like I said last week, I'm slow to get to things.)

Roxane Gay wrote a heartbreaking piece about Sandra Bland and her reaction to what happened to her.

Jamelle Bouie and Black Girl Dangerous have really important pieces about Sandra Bland's death, too.

Thomas Sugrue wrote a reminder that the South is not the only place with a problem with racism in this country.

Ann Friedman looks at the MTV show White People and the Twitter spat between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj, and has some suggestions for how Taylor could go one better than the solid apology she issued (which is, frankly, already one better than most white people in her situation would have done).

This week saw the story of another Black single mother arrested after a presumably well-meaning person called the police upon seeing her children unattended. Here is a really thoughtful post from Beyond Baby Mamas about what people should do if they see Black children unattended.

And here is a really thoughtful post from Shannon Des Roches Rosa about how to talk to and about people with autism.

Here is a story about a cool app that a man with autism created to help his friends (or bystanders) help him when he is suffering from overload.

On how saying "it is my opinion" doesn't necessarily mean you are not wrong.

Amanda Marcotte on the mess at Reddit.

I have decided what I think about the bracelets described in this article, but I'm 99% sure Pumpkin would love them. I worry that they could be another very visible way in which kids can be mean to each other, but perhaps I shouldn't worry about that. After all, if one set of kids want to be mean to another set of kids, they will be- with or without the help of technology.

Parisienne Mais Presque doesn't post very often anymore, but her posts are usually really good. Here is one about language.

Maybe I should move to Switzerland. Except I know people who have lived in Switzerland, and I suspect I would find certain aspects of Swiss culture hard to accept with the grace I would require myself to show as a foreigner. So maybe I should try to make the US more like Switzerland. (The ability to set your desired work percentage is a feature I've always intended to offer any employees I hire if when my company is able to hire employees. I had something similar for part of the first year after Pumpkin was born and it was AWESOME.)

This column on wanting to help too much is really quite insightful.

Ann Friedman's disapproval matrix has been making the rounds again for some reason. My favorite part is the inclusion of toddlers in the "frenemies" section.

Speaking of kids... this list of 14 things you'll say to them over and over is pretty amusing.

So is this, which a friend sent to me on Twitter:


Happy weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Living the Anxious Life

Pumpkin has been having a hard time falling asleep recently. She says that she gets bad thoughts in her head and can't get them out. This has happened before. I am sympathetic- I know exactly what she means, since I once laid awake working through the scenario of what I would do if someone crashed their car through my bedroom wall (it faces the street, but it is an extremely quiet and really rather straight street and there are several feet of bushes between the window and the street). Granted, I was pregnant at the time, but I can work myself into a worry about random things even when I'm not pregnant. It is a skill I have.

In one sense, I'm the perfect person to help Pumpkin figure out how to handle her anxiety problem. I've tried to teach her my tricks of short circuiting the weird, anxious loop in my brain. The best one, by far, is to have a mantra to recite silently. It helps nudge my stream of consciousness into a more relaxed place, where I can go to sleep.

Me being me, my mantra is from John Donne:

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
(Meditation XVII)

Yeah, it isn't a super happy mantra, but I've used it since high school and it works for me.

So, Pumpkin is working on picking herself a mantra. In the meantime, I spend a fair amount of time on her floor, reading tweets in the dark while she falls asleep up in her loft bed. She finds this helpful. It is a good thing she doesn't know what's in my Twitter feed, or it would probably cease to be helpful.

In another sense, I'm a terrible person to teach Pumpkin how to tame her anxiety because at 43 years old, I haven't really learned how to tame my own.

I have always been the type to conform to expectations, and to pay attention to what the people around me need and want. I don't really feel bad about that. I don't think there is anything wrong with trying to be nice to other people, or sensitive to their feelings. But it does sometimes make it hard for me to really know what I want. And the instinct to always do the right thing, or the nice thing, can make it hard for me to relax and enjoy myself, especially now, when there is pretty much always something more virtuous I could be doing (for the kids, for my career, for my health, to take care of the house, to plan for our future, etc, etc, etc).

Even beyond that, there is just a feeling that I should be doing something more virtuous. Or, if I can push that feeling aside, the thought of something unpleasant or downright bad that could happen... Let's just say, I find it difficult to unwind.

This is probably one of the reasons I love to travel so much, because when I'm traveling, I for some reason get a free pass. Yes, I can have the ice cream! Yes, I can have another drink! Yes, I can just sit there and read! OK, only the first one is really true when I'm traveling with my kids, but I really like ice cream, so that's OK. Regardless, I do just relax more when I'm traveling. I have no idea why, because frankly, travel can be kind of stressful. But it is a different sort of stress that somehow causes me less anxiety.

I know, that makes no sense. I wish I understood it, too.

I also wish I could tap into that "free pass" feeling more when I'm at home. I live in an awesome place, I have an awesome life. I want to learn how to relax and enjoy it. Maybe I should try eating more ice cream. But maybe that would just make me gain weight, and then I'd be anxious about that.

Sometimes I think the solution is to exercise more (exercise makes me happy, and also it enables me to eat more ice cream)... but that requires me to do some other worthy thing less, and that triggers anxiety, too.

It is a bit of a conundrum.

If I can't tame my own anxiety, I'd at least like to teach my kids how to relax and enjoy life. Petunia seems to have it down, to be honest. She probably got that from her father. Pumpkin got my anxious genes, I guess, and I feel bad about that.

Yeah, I know. That's sort of ironic.

Share your anxiety taming tips- for you or your kids- in the comments!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Trip Story: Saint-Jean de Luz

When we were planning our vacation in France, we debated whether to stay in Biarritz or St.-Jean de Luz for our time in the Pays Basque. We ended up choosing St.-Jean de Luz based primarily on the fact that I found a great looking hotel, where we could afford a room with an ocean view- even a private ocean view balcony! I am sure Biarritz is also lovely, but I'm glad we chose St.-Jean de Luz. It turned out to be just what I needed.

St. Jean de Luz is a small town, so it was easy to get around on foot. There were interesting things to see, but not so many that we felt rushed our pressured to make sure we saw all of the "highlights." And it just had a nice, laid back feel to it. It is also a very picturesque town.

Nice town!
We arrived in the late afternoon, so we didn't do much our first evening. We strolled around a bit to get a feel for the town, and we had dinner at a Basque restaurant called Chez Maya. The food was good (although I was surprised to discover I had ordered something similar to chicken nuggets- the chicken was more like sausage, but it was breaded.) We also tried a Basque white wine that was moderately sparkling and was poured with great gusto from a foot or two above the glass. The restaurant also had an old-fashioned ceiling fan system: several "sails" of canvas hung from the ceiling on wooden frames, attached to each other by a long cord that eventually went through a hole in the wall to the kitchen. Every so often, someone in the kitchen would pull on the cord a few times, giving us all a breeze.

The next day, we did some touristing- including a visit to the main church, which even I had to admit was an interesting church. It has the tiers of wooden galleries that I gather are characteristic of churches in this part of the world. There is also a model of a ship hanging from the ceiling- also characteristic of Basque churches.

Nice church!
We also did some shopping, and then the rain came in... so we got back in our car and went to see a nearby castle.

The Chateau d'Urtubie was originally built in the 14th century. It is still owned by the original family, although they don't stay in the castle itself these days, preferring the renovated old stables building. I can't blame them- there was a definite musty smell in the castle. But there were also some beautiful tapestries, and a real sense of history.

Nice castle!

On our way back to St.-Jean de Luz, we stopped briefly in Hendaye. We could tell it would be a nice beach vacation town in better weather, but everything was closed up when we were there, so we admired the view from the sidewalk by the beach, and then got back into our car and headed on to St.-Jean de Luz. We stopped at a marked viewpoint on the way. It was pretty, but we didn't really understand why there was a viewpoint there until we got back to our hotel and did some research to discover that la Corniche Basque ("the Basque Coast") is a big deal, sort of like the Pacific Coast Highway south of Monterey in California. It was indeed some beautiful scenery.

Nice coast!
That evening, we opted for a less authentic dinner- I wanted pizza, which is a heck of a lot lighter than the meals I had been eating. (Pizza in France is a thin crust deal much like what we had when we visited Rome- similar to a a "California style" pizza in the US.) We also had a drink or two at a surf bar called "Duke's," which wasn't bad, but is probably a lot more fun when there are more people around.

The next day, we walked across the bridge to the even smaller town of Ciboure, and walked on to Socoa, a for originally built by Henri IV.

Nice fort!

It offered a nice view of the harbor and town of St.-Jean de Luz, and the walk to reach it was a pleasant way to spend the morning.

By the time we had finished looking around the fort, it was lunch time. We had a ham and cheese baguette from a bakery not far from the fort, and then walked back to our hotel. On our way, we finally understood the distinctive tower we'd seen near the harbor in St.-Jean de Luz. There is a matching one in Ciboure (painted with a green stripe instead of the red used on the St.-Jean de Luz side), and sailors use these towers to locate the mouth of the inner harbor.

Nice towers!
It had been overcast and occasionally sprinkled on our morning expedition, but that afternoon, the sun finally came out. We decided to walk in the other direction from our hotel and enjoy the view from the headlands south of town.

Nice view! This is facing south, towards Socoa.
Later still, we sampled a local culinary treat: pintxos, which are basically tapas. I was not at all clear on whether they are in fact the exact same thing, and pintxos is just the Basque word for it, or if there is some subtle difference. Either way, they were yummy, and went well with wine.

Nice snack. The pintxos are in the little jars. I think this shows some sausage slices and curry shrimp.

If you are heading to the region and want to order them, I'll save you some embarrassment and tell you they are pronounced "peen-chos." If you pronounce the X (as Mr. Snarky did when asking about them), you will get very puzzled looks.

After filling up on pintxos, we didn't want a very big dinner. We ended up at a restaurant on the other side of town from our pintxos spot. I ordered tomato soup and had a religious experience. Seriously, I had no idea tomato soup could taste that good. We also finally had some wine from St.-Emilion, and it was wonderful, too.

That evening was the perfect end our visit to St.-Jean de Luz. We got up the next morning, loaded up our car and headed east and north, spending a leisurely day driving to Dax, our next stop.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Facing Reality and Finding Hope Edition

Last night, I went and saw Twelfth Night at the Old Globe with my sister. She has a season subscription, and we usually pick one play to go see together. I had fun- it was a beautifully staged production, and it is a fun play. But I got home after 11 p.m.

This might not have been a problem had I gotten decent sleep the night before, but I hadn't. Petunia came home from camp on Wednesday exhausted and not feeling well. We never figured out if she was sick or had gotten too much sun or something else, but she went to bed early, and woke up at 11 p.m. and came into our bed. Instead of snuggling nicely like she usually does, though, she took over half of the bed, and I ended up sleeping on the sofa. We have a comfortable sofa, but it still wasn't great sleep.

So anyway, I'm tired and now I'm also grumpy because instead of taking a nap like I wanted to this afternoon, I waited for a 3 p.m. phone call with a LegalZoom lawyer and that went incredibly poorly. I wanted a review of a draft contract. I knew it needed work, but instead of providing constructive advice, the lawyer basically snarked on what I had written, oscillating between petty observations ("consultant needs to be capitalized") and insulting incredulity ("you're missing entire sections"). She didn't listen to me when I tried to explain why I had written it how I had, and what my concerns were with her advice (which was essentially to take the 20+ page consulting contract in the LegalZoom documents packet and tweak that).

I cut the meeting short and won't try using LegalZoom's lawyer network again for anything except the most basic questions. I am sure this lawyer is a fine lawyer, but I doubt the LegalZoom system compensates her sufficiently to have her spend the time it would take to give me personalized advice. I wanted someone who would listen to what I'm trying to do and how I want to run my business, and give me advice about how to create the sort of contract I needed to do that. What I got was condescending cookie-cutter advice. Blech. I liked LegalZoom for helping with the basic paperwork of incorporating, but I think I've hit the limit of their usefulness.

But neither tiredness nor grumpiness shall keep me from my appointed duty of sharing links with you!

My theme this week is "finding hope" and I think you'll see why. In keeping with the theme, I'll provide the hopeful end to my lawyer story: I had tried to take a shortcut, essentially using a retail service for something that needed custom tailoring. That went just about as well as that sort of thing ever  does. I vented about it on Twitter, as is my wont. And one of the people who follows me reached out and might have a lead for a lawyer who can help me. So there's hope from a situation in which I was feeling a little hopeless.

Now, the links.

Did you read the amazing New Yorker piece from Kathryn Schultz about the possibility of a really big earthquake in the Pacific Northwest? If you didn't, you should. It really is a very good piece of science writing. And then, you should read this follow up interview with one of the scientists who was interviewed for the piece, to get a sense of hope back. Just don't let the feeling of hope lull you into complacency if you live in an earthquake zone! As is so often the case, the hope comes from facing the reality of the situation and taking appropriate steps.

Speaking of facing reality: I'm still planning to read Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book, although I don't know when. I tend to get to things a year late, but I do get to them. If you've somehow missed the buzz about this book, here is an excerpt. There has been a lot of online silliness about this book, which I've only somewhat followed, because it seems to be mostly white people missing the point. This is not a book written for us, or about us. I gather from Twitter that David Brooks has taken issue with Coates' lack of hope with regards to racism in this country. I know that Johnathan Chait had a similar complaint with Coates after an earlier article (the back and forth over that is summarized here).

I've thought a lot about this argument, because I am an essentially hopeful person. I do believe that America can get better, and that we can improve what I'll call "race relations" only because I can't come up with a better term. Coates' bleakness on this front brought me up short when I first encountered it, too. But he is a very good writer, and I think he does a good job of explaining the reasons for his opinion. Having forced myself to face those reasons, I have to say, I agree with him- there is no reason he should be hopeful about racism in this country. He would have to ignore too much painful- and recent!- history, and read too much into the progress we have managed to make.

But I should be hopeful. I am not sure I can explain this well, but I think we white Americans need to be hopeful about our ability to change this horrible situation that we and our ancestors have created. Without hope, we will not change, and change we must. We have to believe that we can do it, so that we can continue to make progress, and maybe, eventually, we will earn back the hope of Black Americans like Coates. We have to have our hope even in the face of Coates' rejection of it, though. We cannot demand that he feel that hope. We have to accept that his experience of American history is fundamentally different than our experience of American history. In fact, we need to really take that on board and have that show us why we continue to struggle with racism.

So, I guess I think that Coates' lack of hope and the hopefulness that people like Brooks and Chait feel when surveying the same history are both right. We need them both.

But I don't need to read David Brooks' opinions of Coates' book, so I didn't. I did read a some really thoughtful reviews that actually engaged with Coates' ideas and explored what the book does well and what it does not do. Those were by Shani O. Hilton, Brit Bennett, and Josie Duffy. Maybe skip Brooks' piece and go read those instead.

And maybe also ponder what it means that when we imagine a post-apocalyptic future, we leave out people of color.

Some other topics:

How can we best help people caught in conflict zones? It is not simple.

More good but heart-breaking science writing: a personal essay from Brian Vastag, a science writer living with myalgic encephelomyalitis.

Some good news out of IBM: it will now help traveling employees ship breastmilk home. Having struggled to get milk expressed on a business trip home, I think this is a wonderful move, both for the symbolism of the gesture and from a practical standpoint of making life just a little bit easier for nursing mothers who need to travel for work.

A little bit of crass commercialism:

A tiny plug for my upcoming short seminar about running better meetings. You have one week left to register if you want to attend the live session.

You can pre-order the book my little publishing company is publishing about the endangered Cape Mountain Leopard.

Also, I'm looking for more manuscripts to consider- read the information for authors page and/or the back story about my publishing ambitions if you want to know more.

The fun at the end:

Check out the names of these paint colors.

A new tumblr that I love.

Here's a cat in a flip-flop:


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ask Cloud: Email for a Seven Year Old

Awhile back, I tweeted out my misery at having to figure out the rules under which Pumpkin, my very persistent seven year old, could have email.

One of my followers picked up on that and asked if I would write a bit more about the decision to let her have email, and the logistics of setting that up. I decided to make it into an Ask Cloud post, because we're still figuring out the details and I'd love to hear what other people think about this, too.

First: the decision to let her have email. We delayed it for awhile. She's been asking for email since she got a Kindle Fire for Christmas. She might even have started asking for email before she knew that Santa was going to heed her repeated pleas for a Kindle Fire.

At first, we resisted because we didn't see what she would do with email. She said she'd email her friends, but that wasn't exactly a strong argument. We'd already had to talk to her about how she can't just make plans with her friends without checking with us first, and email seemed likely to exacerbate that problem.

Then I started to think ahead a bit. At some point, she's going to get online. She'll get a phone, and she'll start texting with her friends and using whatever social media app is in with her group. She'd already found a game she could play on her Kindle Fire that was networked and allowed her to interact with the other kids in her class who played it. We weren't going to be able to block her off from the online world, and we don't really want to try.

But we do need to get her acclimated to that world, and the more guarded behavior it requires. We need her to learn that any message committed to the network has to be assumed to be public, even if she doesn't intend it to be so, and even if most times it her messages remain between her and the intended recipient.  We need her to learn to think at least a little about worst case scenarios before she sends anything.

I started to think about how I would teach all of these things, and I realized it would be sooooo much easier to teach them before we hit the age of hormones. I realized it would be easier to teach them now, when it doesn't feel like a huge invasion of her privacy for us to have her email password and for my email address to be the rescue address on her account, and when she's still willing to come to us with most of her questions.

Mr. Snarky was still not won over. I think I would have won the day eventually, but in the end our trip to France is what changed is mind. We took a picture of one or both of us on one of our phones every day, and sent it home. He realized it would be so much more fun to send it directly to the kids, instead of relying on others to show it to them.

And so, the decision was made to get Pumpkin email.

Next, we had to settle on the rules. They ended up being pretty simple:

  1. Only send email to people in your address book, and tell us before you add anyone new.
  2. Don't read an email from someone you don't know without showing it to us first.
  3. Don't send any pictures to anyone without checking with us first.
We also told her that we'd check in her account occasionally (since we have the password), and talked about how email isn't really private.

We said that as she gets older, we'll relax the rules a bit. We'll figure out what that means when we get there.

Then we set her up an account with Gmail. Since she's not yet 13, it is technically my account, but it is in her name. She helped us pick out the handle.

So far, the email experience has been good. She has sent some emails to friends. She emails with my parents a bit, and last week, while she was in Arizona with my parents, she sent me an email that was at least 50% emoji. That pretty much made my week.

Do your kids have email? How old were they when they got it? Have you had any problems?

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Completely unrelated plug: I am offering an online seminar on running better meetings. It is enrolling now. It is short and cheap and there will probably be somewhat funny pictures in my slides because that's how I roll.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Trip Story: The Road to St. Jean de Luz

Our plan for our third full day in France was to get up, eat breakfast, check out of our hotel, take a cab to the train station , pick up our rental car, and then wave good-bye to Bordeaux and drive to St.-Emilion for lunch. We also thought we might buy some of the wine for which St.-Emilion is famous and drink it that evening in our hotel room in St. Jean de Luz, where I'd splurged and paid an extra 10 euro/day for a private ocean view balcony.

Things did not go precisely as planned.

We over slept terribly, waking up well after breakfast was done- and in fact after our check out time. We hurried to get ready and pack up while our wonderful and forgiving hosts called a taxi for us. We got to the train station and had to wait quite a while for our turn at the rental counter. We finally got the keys to our car and lugged our bags up a flight of stairs to the rental car level in the parking garage, got in our car, backed out... and the warning light indicating a flat tire came on. So we went back into the rental car office, got keys to a new car, and then finally we were on our way. By this time it was after noon, but we figured we could get to St.-Emilion before 1 p.m., and keep to our original plan.

And then we missed the turn off the ring road. This was primarily my fault- I had not yet gotten my bearings as the navigator- but also a little bit Mr. Snarky's fault, because he forgets that I do not have his eerily good, almost photographic memory for maps. We had not eaten, and were annoyed from how long it took to get a car, and so we of course started sniping at each other. Mr. Snarky took the next exit. I thought he was planning to turn around and get back on course for St.-Emilion, but he was in fact planning to find some place to eat. He found a pub like place in a little suburb of Bordeaux that did not look appealing to me at all. More sniping ensued.

Finally, we acknowledged the scale of our mistake, and decided to give up on St.-Emilion. We would head south instead, and find some place reasonable to get off the motorway and see scenery on the drive to St. Jean de Luz. First, though, we needed food. We pulled into a gas station at what was essentially a rest area on the motorway and decided to resign ourselves to a so-so sandwich just so that I'd stop being so grumpy. (My tendency towards hangriness is well-known, and Mr. Snarky has been with me long enough to know that nothing was going to fix this situation except food.)

A way marker in Moustey
Our sandwiches were far from so-so. They were delicious, and I'm fairly certain that was not just the hunger talking. The bread was essentially perfect, the ham was full of flavor, and the cheese was amazing. We were a little in awe of the sandwiches, to be honest. Neither of our native countries offer gas station food that good. (Although the Kiwi classic of a pie and a slice is pretty awesome, the pies on offer at most gas stations are... disappointing.)

Once we were fed, we plotted a new course. We decided to get off the motorway near Belin-Béliet, and drive through a little bit of the Parc Naturel Régional des Landes de Gascogne. The scenery was pretty enough, but not overwhelmingly beautiful. I suspect that truly enjoying this park would require getting out of the car and hiking a bit, which we didn't really feel we had the time (or the gear) to do. Also, it was sprinkling off and on, and the forecast we'd seen implied it might do more than that, so we weren't inclined to stray to far from our car. We did stop for a snack in a little town called Moustey, which was interesting primarily because we saw two other couples there, both apparently following the Way of St. James, an ancient pilgrimage route that is still in use and fairly popular. The sea shell is a sign of the route, and one of the other couples had sea shells tied on the front of their bicycles.

After Moustey, we drove back to the motorway and stayed on it until we were in Le Pays Basque. We stopped to see the sights in Bidart, which has a beautiful coastal view, and many of the white buildings with red beams that we soon came to recognize as characteristic of the region.

The view south from our clifftop vantage point in Bidart.
We enjoyed the chance to stretch our legs a bit, but wanted to get to our hotel before it got dark and/or it started to really rain, so we drove on... and realized we actually had no idea how to get to our hotel. Luckily for us, St. Jean de Luz helpfully provides road signs to all of the hotels in the old part of town. This is essential, because even with directions, I think we would have gotten lost in the maze of narrow, one-way streets.

We safely arrived at our hotel and found that it really was right on the coastal walk and we really did have a private ocean view balcony... and that it was far too cold and windy to sit on that balcony. So we had some wine in our room looking out past our balcony to the water, and started making plans for our stay.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Weekend Reading: The I Don't Know What Edition

Fist of all, I'm really enjoying the comments on yesterday's post... keep them coming. I promise to come answer some of them soon.

My kids spent this week with my parents. They come home tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to seeing them, but I have to admit... I got a lot more done without them here.

Before you call "hypocrite!" on me and my claim that kids don't have to keep you from doing great things on the work front, I want to emphasize: (1) the number of hours worked does not have a directly linear relationship to the amount of work done. I've been getting a decent amount done even with my lower hours. (2) I took the extra time created by not having to help anyone else get ready in the morning, read bedtime stories, or do any of the other child care tasks I usually do and consciously decided to put that into work (and some chores about the house) because a recent review of my time logs showed me I'd been slacking a bit and I knew I wanted to increase my hours spent on work.

(If you're curious, I've been averaging about 30-35 hours/week of work, and I want to move that up to 35-40 hours/week, which I know from past time logging is my optimal work week in terms of getting sh** done over the long term.)

I keep time logs now because I charge some of my time out to clients, so I figure I might as well log all my work time. I'm not logging home time right now, although I've done that in the past. I've also logged just my work time at various points in the past, and I know that I can work more when the kids are around, I just haven't been doing so.

Frankly, I was really, really burnt out last year, and I needed some time to recover. I've had that time, and now it is time to kick it back up a notch or two. Having the kids gone for a week was a good chance to do that. I intend to keep my work at this higher level once they're back, both in terms of hours and in terms of actually making good use of those hours.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a weekend reading post. Shouldn't there be some links? I've got some for you, but they are extremely random this week, hence my complete failure to come up with a reasonable title for this post.

First up: big news! Annorlunda Books' second book is now ready for pre-order at Amazon. If you're one of the people who prefers other ebook outlets, I'm working to get pre-order pages elsewhere, too. I hope to have links for you by next week.

Meet one of my favorite local politicians.

When was the first time you became aware of your race? If you're white, your answer is probably actually about when you first became aware of other peoples' race. This was a really eye-opening and thought-provoking post for me to read.

This reflection on losing 100 pounds is really good.

I shared this piece about women's speech patterns in an earlier post this week, but I'm sharing it again because it is really good and you should be sure to read. Ann Friedman's piece on this topic is worth your time, too.

And if you're really intrigued by speech patterns and how they impact how people are perceived, I just finished reading Deborah Tannen's Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Workand it is really good. I'll also admit to finding it a bit depressing that a book that came out in 1994 was still so completely relevant.

Zeynep Tufekci's post about why the computer glitch that hit the NYSE this week should scare you is really good. I may finally get around to writing a post about over-automation. If I do, it will be over at my real name blog.

More data about how to end homelessness.

Did you see that Ellen Pao has stepped down as Reddit CEO? I am sad about that, but hope she moves on to a happier place for her.

On a somewhat related note: ending abuse in an online community turns out not to be impossible.

Danilo Campos has some sobering thoughts about the lack of inclusiveness in the tech world.

The fun at the end:

Key and Peele's feminist pirate song is awesome.

This video of a girl and her dad having a beatbox duel made me smile.

So did this:




Thursday, July 09, 2015

Paying for the Things I Enjoy

I have been thinking a lot lately about how I pay for the things I like online- i.e., how I pay for the content I consume. I'm thinking about it for the obvious reason that my decision to start up a micropress makes me very interested in what convinces people to pay for content. After all, one of the things I'm competing with is the free stories people can read online.

But I've had the interest in content and who pays for it (and how) for quite awhile. I've written about this at Tungsten Hippo. The internet is set up so that the people who make it worthwhile, namely the people that produce the information that it provides, are the last to get paid. You certainly pay for the hardware you use to access the internet. You probably also pay for the bandwidth, unless you're at a university or using a public library where someone else pays for it for you. You are much less likely to pay actual money to the individual sites whose content you access, even though without those sites, you probably wouldn't care whether or not you had bandwidth, and may not even be so fussed about having certain types of hardware.

Ah, but you pay in ads or information, right? What happens to the money from those? If you look at the sites you access, chances are the distribution of money follows the same weird inversion. The people who host the site certainly get paid. The people who wrote the code that runs the site probably get paid, although a lot of sites do run off of open source tools. The people who provide the content- i.e., the writers? That's less certain. There are a lot of opportunities to write for free out there. If you don't believe me on that, I can forward you some of the pitches I get, telling me I should write a "guest post" for some site, and how they'll pay me with a link back to this site. And then, of course, there are the big sites like Huffington Post, where you can submit for the slim chance of being published and paid nothing except "exposure."

I do not know the solution to this, but in last week's Weekend Reading post I said the following, about addictive systems: "the systems we build are the results of our decisions, whether conscious or not, and we always have the option to try to make better decisions."

So, I'm going to try to make some different decisions. I have decided to think about my favorite things online and figure out how to pay the people who make them.

A lot of my favorite sites are personal blogs that don't run ads. In those cases, there is not really anyway to send them any money, unless I track them down and write them a check. (Bloggers I read- consider this a standing invitation to hit me up for a lunch next time you're in San Diego!)

But there are a lot of other things I love that I can pay for. Here's my list so far:

I love the History of the English Language podcast, and I've gotten Pumpkin hooked on it, too. So I donated via the donation button on the website, and I plan to buy the History of the Alphabet audiobook as soon as I figure out the best way to do that for how I'm going to listen to it.

I used Coffee Break French to brush up my French before our recent vacation, and I'm using Coffee Break Spanish now to try to ensure that Pumpkin and Petunia can't have entire conversations that I will not understand. Both are produced by Radio Lingua. My intention is to become a subscriber to Coffee Break Spanish, but that costs more than I can justify spending right now, so I bought the One Minute Spanish for Latin America series instead.

I already buy a lot of books for my Kindle for Amazon- I have to keep the flow of short ebooks going to supply Tungsten Hippo, I have book club books to get, there are random other things I want to read (I'll be buying Between the World and Me,Ta-Nehisi Coates' latest book, for instance).

I'm just getting started on this little project. I want to go slow, so that I can pay attention to what makes me decide to pay, and how much I'm willing to pay for different things. So far, the things I've decided to pay for are things I've really loved, but had been enjoying for free. I don't think that is the usual behavior for people, and it probably isn't even the norm for me. But who knows? Maybe I should set up a "donate" button on Tungsten Hippo.

What about you? What things that you get from the internet do you pay for? What makes you decide to buy?

Monday, July 06, 2015

A Parable from a Parking Lot

Last week, Pumpkin moved back to our usual YMCA camp, after spending the first two weeks of summer break doing a gymnastics camp at a different local Y. She says she prefers our usual YMCA for camp, and I do, too, mostly because traffic is so much less of an issue when we are at that camp. Pumpkin doesn't care so much about the traffic, but says she gets more playground time at her usual camp, and the "spirit activities" aren't as annoying.

There is one thing that is more annoying at our usual camp, though: the exit from the parking lot. To leave the parking lot, you make a right turn onto a fairly busy road. Meanwhile, there is a line of cars waiting to either turn left into the parking lot or make a U turn and go into the next parking lot (which is reserved for people going to the Y to workout, not do camp drop off or pick up). Sometimes, the people waiting to make a U turn get impatient, because at peak drop off or pick up time, there is a fairly steady stream of cars trying to get out of our parking lot, preventing them from making a U turn even when there is a break in oncoming traffic. And sometimes, when they get impatient, they do questionable things, like make their U turn while someone else is turning left, thereby almost hitting the car coming out of the parking lot.

Last Monday morning, I came very close to having an accident with a man in a blue BMW
The car looked a lot like this. (Image credit)
convertible. Luckily for both of us, I saw what he was doing in time and slammed on my brakes. Luckily for me, this did not get me rear-ended by the next person trying to get out of the parking lot before the traffic light down the street changed and we all lost our window of opportunity.

I'll admit that I said some not very nice things about the man in the blue BMW as I drove away.

From the glare he gave me as he turned, I suspect he said some not very nice things about the people dropping off their kids at camp and making it hard for him to get his morning workout. I suspect he hates the camp season. I had the right of way and I didn't even honk my horn at him. Why else would he be glaring?

Once the adrenaline was all out of my system, I realized that we were both blaming the wrong thing (each other) and letting the real problem (inadequate infrastructure for the traffic in and out of that parking lot at peak times) off the hook.

Later that week, I watched a fight play out in my Twitter stream between two groups of women. One woman had tweeted something that another woman felt was demeaning towards women who do not have kids, and it kind of snowballed from there into a strange and yet familiar argument about whether mothers or women who do not have kids get more shit from society.

And it occurred to me that this was the exact same dynamic as what happened between me and the guy in the blue BMW.

I know this isn't a profound observation, or even a novel one. But dammit, I wish we could learn to stop yelling at each other and focus instead on the real problem of a society in which there is literally not a single way to be a woman without catching shit for it.

On a somewhat related note, I fully intend to keep using my natural speech mannerisms like "just" and "sorry," and this post from a linguist explains why. There is only so much tightrope balancing I can do.

But I also swear that I will not judge any woman who does manage to eliminate "just" and "sorry" and all those mannerisms. After all, how other women talk is not the real problem here.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Long Weekend Edition

It is a long weekend for most people here in the US, as we head into the patriotic extravaganza that is our July 4th holiday. We'll be spending it a bit unusually- we're packing the kids off to my parents' house for a week, and won't even be with our kids for the holiday. Oh well, as Pumpkin likes to inform us, they're half Kiwi, anyway.

Perhaps we should make a huge deal out of Waitangi Day next year.

Anyway, I am not talking the entire day off, but I am planning to stop working early.  And so, your links list will be somewhat random this week. Here goes:

This is a really interesting essay about why we shouldn't build "addictive" apps. It is also a reminder that the systems we build are the results of our decisions, whether conscious or not, and we always have the option to try to make better decisions.

Don't assume everyone who disagrees with you is a jerk. I basically agree with the main point of this article, and do think that it is best to aim for a civil discussion and try to understand why the person on the other side thinks differently than you do, without demonizing that person. I struggle to reconcile this general belief/desire with the fact that sometimes the person on "the other side" is arguing that I'm not equal, and/or won't actually discuss the issues at all. So I guess I think I shouldn't assume the other person is a jerk, but that I have to be free to respond appropriately when the other person proves to be a jerk.

Speaking of jerks: I don't think I should have to learn how to cope with verbal abuse. I think that people who routinely resort to verbal abuse should not be tolerated in any workplace. They can change. I have seen it happen when it was made clear that their behavior would result in them losing a job. (Thanks to the reader who sent that article along! I'm not sure if you want to be named publicly or not...)

Somewhat related: it is on me to build my racial stamina. Sometimes, we need to have conversations that make us feel uncomfortable, and accept that the other party has every right to be angry.

Back to speaking of jerks: why do people care where other people pee?

Another reader submission: the study of women in color in STEM that was referenced heavily in What Works for Women at Work.

Back when I was reading up about labor and delivery, I remember reading that we didn't really know what triggers labor. We still don't know the full story, but we're learning more.

And speaking of labor... did you see the story about the California woman who got lost in the woods, gave birth, was attacked by bees, and started a wildfire?

This tweet about that link (from a local reporter) made me chuckle:

How a woman is transformed into a cover model. The gif in this tweet is a bit mesmerizing, and also disturbing:




And while we're doing tweets with embedded gifs:




And finally, a couple of promotional links for things I'm working on:

I'm trying out an idea for short (and inexpensive!) seminars on focused topics. First up, how to run better meetings. The price is already low, so there is no discount for signing up early this time: just the knowledge that you're helping me stop worrying about whether I'll hit my revenue goals for the course!

I've got the page for the next release from Annorlunda Books up! Unspotted is the story of the elusive, endangered Cape Mountain Leopard, and the man who has made it his mission to save them. It will come out in August, and I'll have the preorder page up soon. In the meantime, I'm looking for some advance readers- sign up if you're interested.

Oops, almost forgot the closing laugh. XKCD has a great answer for those annoying "what's your greatest weakness?" types of interview questions.

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